Bigotry has been an enduring feature of Australian life, present from the arrival of the first Europeans on the continent’s shores. In 1796, the New South Wales governor, John Hunter, bemoaned the arrival of Irish convicts, those ‘turbulent and worthless characters’, who, he wished, ‘had either been sent to the coast of Africa, or some place as fit for them’. Hunter’s opposition to the newcomers prefaced more than two centuries of ethnic, cultural, religious, and sexual bigotry in Australia. Appeals for tolerance have frequently been ignored. The question posed in 2011 by protesting inmates of the Villawood Detention Centre, ‘Are we not your neighbours?’, has too often been met with indifference rather than empathy. Yet, despite its persistence and harmful effects, bigotry constitutes an understudied historical phenomenon.
This lecture discusses the possibilities and challenges of a national approach to the study of bigotry, asking whether there are specific conditions in colonial or national life that have shaped Australian bigotry, and why at certain historical moments particular population groups have borne the brunt of intolerance and discrimination. It argues that a better understanding of bigotry in Australian life is essential, not because the past is a reliable guide to present action but because the perspective of history helps us better understand our lives and our communities and to work towards repairing the wounds of bigotry.
About the speaker
Malcolm Campbell is Professor of History at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where he teaches Irish and Australian history and the history of empire. A graduate of the University of New South Wales, he has published widely on the history of Irish emigration and settlement in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific. His most recent book is the transnational study Ireland's Farthest Shores: Mobility, Migration, and Settlement in the Pacific World, published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 2022.